20 April 2014

Go on, go on, go on, go on.

The good china, and a daecent cup of Barry's Green Label.
Embassy of Ireland, London, 9th April, 2014
I was at an event in the Embassy of Ireland in London a few weeks ago at which we were all given lapel pins to wear with the Tricolour and the Union flag standing side-by-side. "Marvellous," said one attendee, "to see how far we all have come that our flegs can be proudly displayed abreast in a manner impossible just a few short years ago".

Or last year, apparently, depending on where exactly those flegs were to be displayed.

While no doubt the historic rifts between our two great countries had indeed been closed once and for all through the simple manufacture of die-struck metal enamelled trinkets by the good burghers of Kunshan in Jiangsu Province, the act of wearing one made me rather uncomfortable, for the displaying of any nationalistic symbol as an element of male couture has deeply unhealthy connotations for me.

Living in the US in the aftermath of 9/11, the lapel pin was one of the most obvious forms of the "my-country-right-or-wrong" mentality that infected the nation, stifled dissent and ultimately midwifed the birth of our current era of unlimited surveillance, detention, torture and assassination (the other being the star-spangled onesie and cowboy hat wearing gentleman who used to stand on the back of his pick-up truck in downtown New Haven, Connecticut on a Saturday morning frenetically waving Old Glory as the melodic bars of God Bless The USA blared from his overclocked speakers, a one-man Pro-War rally whose approach to debate was to crank his flag-waving up to eleven with a missionary zeal not seen since Unkie Dave discovered Ben and Jerry's Oatmeal Cookie Chunk and wrote his Second Letter to the Coeliacs, but I digress...), the visible symbol that proclaimed to all and sundry that you were a proud member of the "Homeland" club and would happily waterboard anyone who dared to dispute your god-given right to their oil. I mean Freedom.

When Barack Obama first ran for President, he initially rejected the Hawkish overtones of the pin and chose to wear his patriotism on the inside (presumably through novelty underwear). This stance, however, lasted almost as long as his pledge to close Guantanamo, and now no image of the President in a dark sombre suit is complete without a sparkly pin to remind everyone which country he is Commander-in-Chief of (because presumably folks forget, possibly because of video games and the internets).

Seeing this overbearing token of militant nationalism imported in to our own domestic landscape which, let's face it, isn't short of its own overbearing tokens of militant nationalism, was not something that I was especially happy to see. I am uncomfortable with any of the trappings of nationalism, from the singing of anthems at sporting events to the hollow urgings of politicians to forgive their incompetence, hold silent on any criticisms and to "put on the Green jerseys" in the spirit of a false national solidarity.

As Samuel Johnson said (though sadly probably not entirely what he meant) appeals to patriotism are the last refuge of a scoundrel and, like our good friend and his interpretative colour guard in New Haven, it would seem that those who wave the fleg the hardest are usually those with the narrowest definition of who gets to stand under it.

Luckily for them then that they don't have to save any room for me.

Still, my discomfort didn't stop me from accepting An Cúpan or two in the harp-emblazoned State china, the good stuff the mammy only brings out for special visitors or at funerals and normally keeps locked away behind glass in the display cabinet we were all told not to play near as children.

One should never let one's proletarian internationalism get in the way of a good cup of tae.

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